In Iliad Book 9 an embassy of three men, Odysseus, Phoinix and Aias, is sent by king Agamemnon to try to persuade Achilleus to return to battle. As we have seen in class discussion, while Achilleus rejects the appeals of all three, this is not without significant yielding each time from his original hardline position. We have examined the arguments of the three speeches and the reasons Achilleus responds to each as he does, including why he yields some ground in response to each. We also have discussed, as background to the embassy and its results, the current crisis of authority in the Greek army, as well as the code of behavior that the warriors live by and how this code shapes both the embassy’s appeals and Achilles’ responses. Finally, we have considered what matters to Achilleus personally, albeit acknowledging that he is in the midst of his own crisis of belief and motivation regarding his life as a hero.
Your task for this essay is to imagine yourself as a fourth member of the embassy, and to make the best argument you can that might persuade Achilles to return, based on your understanding of the warrior code, the current political situation in the army, and what is at stake in the war at this point, as well as your understanding of what matters to Achilles personally. You may draw on elements of the three speeches of the embassy, but what I am really looking for is your own reasoning in view of the circumstances. Key to this is to think of what objections Achilles might have to your arguments and to find ways to get around them. You can dramatize your essay by addressing it to Achilles (“I . . ., you . . ., etc.”). You don’t have to try to imitate the Homeric style; use your own voice. But keep it fairly formal; you’re on an official diplomatic mission after all! One last thing: in composing this speech you will have the benefit of a kind of hindsight, having read the rest of the Iliad and seen what happens to Achilleus as a result, in large part, of how he responded to the embassy and what choices he later made as further events unfolded. More than this, you will have learned a great deal more about what “matters in life” according to the story of the Iliad as a whole, especially as concerns Achilleus.
It will be fair enough to bring this further understanding to your speech. After all, some people—the seers—have greater knowledge than others about what is going to happen, even though others don’t always listen to them or fully understand their warnings (witness Poulydamas and Hektor). Your greater knowledge of what is to come than Achilleus makes you like a seer. That doesn’t mean you’re going to convince him. But you’ve seen that he does listen and he does have a keen and sensitive mind; so you can be encouraged to do your best